Johannesburg - Rival telecoms companies have objected to an application by MTN South Africa, which asked the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) to grant it more spectrum in anticipation of growing data traffic.
Cell C’s executive head of regulatory affairs, Mothibi Ramusi, argued in the firm’s submissions that it appeared the award of the radio frequency spectrum was a foregone conclusion and, therefore, was “administratively unfair”.
He added that spectrum as a scarce resource “must always be subject to public scrutiny to ensure that it is awarded in a manner that promotes the public interest”, and suggested that Icasa award the spectrum in terms of a regulated process.
MTN is applying for 5 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum in the 2 100 MHz band. It already holds 5MHz in this band. Vodacom holds 5MHz and MTN is seeking the unassigned 5MHz portion from 2 010 to 2 015MHz.
While MTN’s competitors argued yesterday that Icasa should issue an invitation to apply for the spectrum to all the players in the telecoms market, MTN claimed that its rivals had had the opportunity to apply, but had not done so.
“It should be noted that this particular band, we believe is not ‘high demand’ frequency as it has been dormant, open to application for several years and has not been applied for previously,” Eben Albertyn, the chief technology officer at MTN SA, told Business Report.
“All licensees were free to apply for this spectrum, but have not done so.
“As per normal business practice, MTN applies for spectrum when a need arises. MTN’s application… was made in December 2012, it just so happens that the Icasa processes have to run their course which can take some time,” he added.
Bryanston-based Smile Communications, which operates in Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria, has been waiting for Icasa to consider its request for spectrum in South Africa since 2009.
“MTN already has spectrum in the 2 100MHz band and this additional assignment would not be the most efficient and equitable usage of broadband spectrum. It would concentrate spectrum in the hands of one company,” Thato Mahapa, the senior manager for legal and regulatory affairs at Smile Communications, argued.
He said it was premature to assign the spectrum before that in the sought-after 800MHz and 2.5 gigahertz bands was allocated and before a broadband strategy was clarified.
Neotel objected to the MTN application on the basis of the “deemed rights” Neotel was granted in terms of section 30 B(2) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 on access to the third-generation (3G) radio frequency spectrum bands. Neotel said it had, since 2010, been asking Icasa to clarify the status of the 3G band, which MTN was now applying for. But Icasa had never responded.
Vodacom suggested that Icasa should invite applications for the spectrum.
Paseka Maleka, an Icasa spokesman, could not say when the authority would publish its ruling. “We are going to deliberate on the submissions. People have seven days until August 30 to give additional information on their submissions to clarify some of these things.”
MTN shares lost 0.99 percent to close at R189.60 yesterday. - Business Report